Summary: The fallout from Troy's betrayal begins to hit home.
Author's Note: This story is part of the Coming to Terms 'Verse. It follows directly on the College Visit series (All the stories are linked). If you haven’t read it, I strongly advise that you at the very least read the last story in the series. It provides the necessary context for Chad's behavior toward Troy in this story.
Chad shut his locker door and leaned against it, smiling as he listened to Ryan's tale on the phone.
"So you know Shar; she wasn't about to be outdone by anyone. She opened her phone, brought up the picture she took of you at U of A the other day and declared that you were her boyfriend. But Sharon studied the picture for a few seconds and said, 'I don't think so. He looks much more like Ryan's type.'"
"Ooh, busted! What did the Princess say to that?" Chad asked laughingly as he spotted Troy and Gabriella coming his way. He straightened up and turned away, no longer listening to whatever Ryan was saying. "Hey, I've got to call you back," Chad said hastily.
"Thanks." Chad closed his phone and pocketed it as he took a calming breath.
"Morning, Chad," Gabriella said cheerfully. Chad pasted on a smile and returned the greeting. Troy didn't meet his eyes as he opened his own locker next to Chad's and spoke with forced cheer.
"Hey, buddy; how was the orientation weekend?" he asked.
"Good," Chad replied. He glanced at Gabriella and forced himself to say more. "It was fun."
"Yeah? What did you do?"
"It was the usual orientation thing," Chad replied, averting his eyes to the phone in his hand. He had a text from Ryan, but he didn't open it. "We sat through a few boring presentations and then I registered for my classes. I also had the opportunity to meet the guy who endowed my scholarship. He's a U of A alum who owns a big engineering firm. Really cool guy," Chad said, his anger at Troy momentarily forgotten. "Oh, and I got to meet my roommate, too."
"Really?" Gabriella replied. "I won't get to meet my roommate until August."
"Did Ryan see him?" Troy asked with a snicker. "I'm sure he'd want to check the guy out."
"Actually, he's someone Ryan knows," Chad replied tightly, wanting nothing more than to wipe the silly grin off Troy's face. "He's the son of one of Mr. Evans' employees. Mr. Evans pulled a few strings to hook us up."
"Cool," Troy said, his smile fading just a bit.
"Mr. E also got us into one of the newer dorms. Sharpay and I are in the same building," Chad continued as he hoisted his backpack over his shoulder and started walking toward class.
"Oh, that's right. I forgot she was going there," Gabriella said. "It'll be nice having someone you know close by."
"Yeah," Chad replied dryly. "I'll have at least one friend on campus."
"You're going to have your hands full with that one," Troy sneered.
"I guess you'd have reasons for feeling that way about her, Troy," Chad replied evenly. "I don't have a problem with her, personally."
"Did you like the campus?" Gabriella asked, quickly changing the subject.
"Yeah, it looked exactly the way Troy described it that day when we were filling out our applications." Chad looked up in time to catch Troy's expression and took pleasure in the guilt he saw in Troy's eyes.
"Look," Troy said awkwardly, "I'm sorry about bailing on you this weekend."
"This weekend?" Chad spat incredulously. He shook his head and, reining in his anger, entered the classroom. Behind him, Gabriella nudged Troy, who cleared his throat and followed him over to his seat.
"Look, buddy, we should talk about this," he began.
"What's there to talk about, Troy?" Chad asked, letting his hurt and anger show. "It's all a done deal, right?"
"Yeah, but I want you to understand--."
"What's there to understand?" Chad demanded. Ms. Darbus entered the room, so Troy just shook his head and sat down.
Throughout homeroom, Ryan kept an eye on Chad, who stared at his desk the entire time. When the bell sounded, Chad shot out of the room before Ryan had a chance to speak to him. Troy followed him and Ryan started to do the same, but he caught a glimpse of Gabriella and stopped in his tracks.
"Chad," Troy called when he caught up to him during free period sometime later. "Can we talk?" Chad turned and sighed resignedly.
"Go ahead; you have something to say?"
"I wanted to talk to you about my decision to go to California," Troy said, averting his eyes.
"There's nothing to talk about, Troy. The word 'talk' implies that there's something to negotiate, something to work out. You don't want to talk. You want to tell. So why don't you just go ahead and tell me whatever it is you want to get off your chest so I can go study."
"Look, I know you're angry--."
"Really? Good," Chad spat, slamming his locker door shut. "Go on. I haven't got all day."
"You know, out of all the people in the world, I expected you to be the most sympathetic."
"Sympathetic?" Chad said in amazement. "No. Experienced, maybe."
"Experienced?" Troy frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I've known you longer than anyone on the planet. That means I've got the most experience at being screwed over by you," Chad said through gritted teeth. "I should know better than to expect anything else by now."
"Look, just say it. Just say whatever it is you want to say and then get the hell out of my face," Chad spat. Troy sighed dejectedly.
"I need you to understand why I had to do it." Troy waited for some sort of reaction from Chad, but when he realized that nothing was forthcoming, he looked around, assuring himself that there were no prying ears, and pressed on. "I thought you would understand what I was going through. I don't know how you could even think about going to U of A with Ryan being on the other side of the country."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Chad asked stonily.
"You two have gotten pretty serious," Troy said. Chad just stared at him. "I can't believe you're just letting him go like that. Well, maybe you're willing to give him up, but I don't intend to let Gabriella get away. I intend to do something about it," Troy said fervently.
"Let me get this right," Chad replied, shaking his head in disbelief. "First, you damned near ruined your relationship with Gabriella so you could get a basketball scholarship to the U of A. You got it, and now you're going to throw it all away--after putting her and everyone else through hell--so you can be with her."
"I'm doing this for her. For us!" Troy explained. "I love her!"
"Right. And that trumps everything else."
"It does for me, yes," he insisted. Chad shook his head. "Maybe if you understood what it truly meant to be in--."
"Hey!" Chad growled, grabbing Troy by his shirt and slamming him up against the wall. Down the hall, a pair of freshmen gasped. "Don't you dare question my--!" Troy stared at him with wide eyes and Chad's anger deflated like air being let out of a balloon. He let Troy go.
"I've got to do this, Chad."
"Good. Go. Have a nice life." He picked up his bag and started to walk away. Troy grabbed his arm.
"What? What did you expect me to say? That I'm happy for you?" Chad shook his head. "I'm not. I think you're throwing your life away. But if that's what you want to do, go for it." Chad shrugged out of Troy's grasp and strode away.
"Hey," Ryan said when he caught up with Chad on the lunch line. He grabbed a container of milk and placed it on Chad's tray. "Zeke brought brownies," he explained when Chad gave him an odd look. He put one on his own tray. "So did you talk to Troy?"
"He talked to me. I'm out of words for him."
"And nothing." Chad moved along the line. His phone vibrated and he pulled it out of his cargo pocket to read the text. He shook his head and put it back. "Fuck." Ryan looked at him expectantly but Chad just glared at the dessert selection. "I don't want to talk about it." Chad picked up his tray and went to the cashier.
Chad was sullen and uncommunicative for the rest of the day. Sharpay needled him in art class, hoping to provoke a response, but Ryan just observed him thoughtfully. After his last class he went to the auditorium for the spring show rehearsal, half expecting Chad not to show up. But he arrived on time with the rest of the Wildcats, having apparently recovered something of his usual humor. Ryan was greatly relieved for Chad. Unfortunately, that was the only thing he had to be happy about.
"Stop, stop, stop; I'm begging you. Stop!" Ryan shouted, gestured with his arms until Kelsi turned off the playback. "Gentlemen, that was terrible."
"Sorry, Ryan," Jason said as he bent to retrieve the basketball that had gone astray. It rolled past him and came to a stop at Chad's right foot. Chad flipped the ball up and into his hand and tossed it back to Jason. Ryan was impressed by the simple soccer move and briefly wondered if it was too late to incorporate it into the number. But he immediately discarded the notion; his choreography had already taxed the extremely limited dancing skills of the East High Wildcats. He turned his attention to the rest of the group. Whenever possible, Ryan tried to avoid looking at Chad onstage. It was dangerously easy to get distracted.
"What was that?" he asked as calmly as he could manage given the debacle he'd just witnessed. "I know you're trying really hard, but this just isn't coming together."
He shook his head as he tried to think of something that would help but to be honest he thought it was rather hopeless. Not that the entire unit was awful; just everyone behind Chad. Ryan sighed and mounted the steps to the stage as he did the math in his head. Eleven out of twelve of the Wildcats sucked. He was beginning to agree with the kid in the Drama Club who had suggested that they do The King and I.
"Look, guys," Ryan said. "Why don't we call it quits for today and come back to this tomorrow with fresh legs. Get some rest, listen to the music tonight, run it over in your heads and we'll try again tomorrow, all right?"
His declaration was greeted with dejected looks from the Wildcats, who let their basketballs drop to the floor as they shuffled toward the edge of the stage to collect their bags and jackets.
"What team?" Chad shouted abruptly. Ryan looked up sharply.
"Wildcats," the demoralized members of the basketball team answered dully. The Wildcat captain was unimpressed.
"What team?" he said louder.
"Wildcats!" the team replied with more energy.
"And do Wildcats quit?" Chad shouted at the top of his lungs. Ryan winced and Kelsi covered her ears.
"Do Wildcats run from a challenge?"
"Then get your sorry butts back over here and let's do this," Chad demanded. He turned to Ryan and nodded smugly. "Tell us what to do, Mr. Choreographer."
Ryan didn't know whether he wanted to kiss Chad or kill him. He shook his head and, suppressing a smile, went back to his seat. Ten minutes later, he decided that he ought to kill his boyfriend for subjecting him to yet another round of visual torture.
Ryan ran his hands over his eyes. He never imagined it would be so hard to get twelve people to dance together for two minutes. When he first thought up the choreography and tried it out on Chad he was sure that the other Wildcats would pick it up just as easily. He was greatly mistaken. No amount of instruction, pleading, repetition, coercion, or threat seemed to help the number gel. It was two weeks until the show and Ryan was rapidly running out of time.
"All right, look people," Ryan said, slowly rising and mounting the steps again. "I really think we ought to call it a day. You're tired, I'm tired--."
"Let's try it one more time," Zeke said, looking around to his team members for support. Chad nodded and the other Wildcats followed their captain's lead.
"I don't think--."
"Come on, Evans," Chad said, cutting off the choreographer. Ryan gave him a slightly desperate look.
"Okay," he conceded, more because it was Chad who'd asked than anything else. "Jason, go down into the orchestra pit and get your ball. Now listen. Your movements have to be crisp and sharp. You need to lis--."
"Let me handle this," Chad said, dropping his ball and stopping it with his foot. "Look; we do this every day in practice. This isn't anything but a coordinated drill set to music. It's still all about rhythm and timing. Like the boss said, crisp and sharp. Jason, Charlie; you guys tend to be a little slow. You know what Coach always says about snap. Forget about Evans; forget about the audience. Play it, just like we do on court; make it happen. And Zeke? Stop looking at your feet."
"How did you know he was looking at his feet?" Ryan asked in spite of himself.
"Zeke always looks down during drills. That's how he got the name 'Stumbles,'" Chad replied. "Anything else?" Ryan realized he was being spoken to and hastily shook his head. "All right, team. Let's turn this thing out!"
Chad turned and looked at Ryan, who belatedly realized that he was in the way. He took a few steps back and Chad nodded to Kelsi. The Wildcats went to their places as she started the music. As soon as they began to move, Ryan could see a difference in their pacing. He jumped off the stage and stood in the center aisle to get a better view.
The Wildcats performed perfectly. Ryan was speechless. All he could do was applaud along with Kelsi. Chad smiled brilliantly and led the team in the Wildcats cheer.
"Good job," he said as the echo died out in the auditorium. "I'll see you back here tomorrow." Ryan and Kelsi exchanged a look as the Wildcats left the stage.
Ryan slowly collected his things and left the auditorium, still slightly stunned by what he'd just witnessed. He walked out of the auditorium, out of the building, across the parking lot and over to Chad's SUV still shaking his head. He sighed and slid into the passenger's seat.
"That was amazing," he said as he tossed his bag onto the backseat.
"What can I say?" Chad said easily as he pulled the car out of its space. "We're Wildcats."
"I still don't get it. How did you do that?"
"You totally turned the Wildcats around. They were perfectly awful before your little pep talk."
"Oh come on, we weren't that bad."
"Not we; they. They were horrible," Ryan insisted. Chad laughed and shook his head.
"They were a little uncoordinated, but--."
"They well and truly sucked," Ryan insisted. "I was this close to cutting the number and asking Shar to sing the national anthem to use up the time."
"Come on, that's cold."
"Chad, they were awful."
"I mean it!"
"All right," Chad conceded. "They did suck. I could tell by the look on your face."
"So how did you manage to whip them into shape so easily?"
Chad smiled smugly.
"I'm the captain. It's what I do."
"Couldn't you have done 'what you do' an hour earlier?" Ryan said, rubbing his eyes. "My retinas are probably permanently scarred." Chad reached out and took hold of his free hand.
"Sorry, dude. I'll make it up to you when we get to the house."
"Really?" Ryan said, calculating his options. Chad shot him a glance.
"Name your reward."
Ryan smiled the rest of the way to Chad's house.
"You cannot be serious," Chad said for the third time.
"You said anything," Ryan repeated stubbornly.
"You could have had all this," Chad said, pausing to do a slow turn, "and instead you opt to watch television."
"I can have 'all that' anytime," Ryan said with an insouciant shrug.
"Not anymore," Chad quipped, grabbing for his backpack. "Go ahead, watch TV. I'm going to catch up on my email."
"No," Ryan said calmly. "You said I could have anything I wanted. I said I wanted you to watch a marathon of Project Runway with me." Chad just stared at him.
"This is so wrong."
As Ryan expected, Chad was asleep in less than twenty minutes. He held out for a while, actually getting into the episode for as long as the popcorn lasted, anyway, before he slumped against Ryan's shoulder and nestled against him. Ryan pulled him down so that Chad's head rested in his lap. He played with a few of Chad's curls as he continued to watch the show.
Although he and Sharpay were big fans for the reality series, he'd only chosen watching the show as his prize to yank Chad's chain. True, they had the house to themselves for an hour or two, but it had been worth the sacrifice to see the expression on Chad's face. Ryan figured he could make it up to him later. Besides, their relationship wasn't all about sex. They actually enjoyed snuggling and often spent hours curled up together watching TV or listening to music. Ryan had another motive as well. By taking the attention off of their relationship for a while, Ryan hoped to prevent Chad from thinking about college. He'd been brooding about that since the weekend and his confrontation with Troy very likely made things worse.
He stroked Chad's cheek and smiled when Chad muttered something and reached for his hand. Ms. Danforth came in through the garage entrance and set her bag down on the counter. She looked into the family room and saw Ryan, but no sign of her son.
"Hi, Ryan," she said. Ryan looked over his shoulder and returned the greeting. "Where's Chad?" Ryan pointed down and she walked over to peer at her son. She lightly stroked his cheek and he absently pushed her hand away.
"Mom," he muttered, furrowing his brow. Ryan smiled.
"How does he know?" he asked softly, looking up at her. Ms. Danforth shrugged.
"What are you watching?"
"Oh, it's my new Project Runway DVD."
"No wonder he's asleep," Ms. Danforth said knowingly. "Mind if I join you?"
"No, that'd be cool," Ryan said happily.
"Just let me get out of this suit."
"Sure," he replied, stopping the disk. By the time she went up to change and returned in jeans and a tee, Ryan had extricated himself and brewed a pot of tea. He was placing a few Milano cookies on a plate as she entered the kitchen.
"Where did you find those?" she asked.
"Chad showed me where you kept your stash," Ryan replied sheepishly.
"What was he doing raiding my stash? He doesn't even like Milanos."
"I know, but I do and he loves me," Ryan said impishly.
"Well, put them back where you found them," Ms. Danforth said. "I put them up there to hide them from my husband. He could stand to lose a few pounds."
She reached for the tray, but Ryan picked it up and gestured with his head. They returned to the family room, where Chad was still lost to the world. He'd sprawled across the couch, so Ryan and Ms. Danforth sat on the other half of the spacious sectional.
"So I hear you and Mr. D are going to a formal event next week," Ryan said an hour into the marathon. He gestured at the screen with his cup. "You'd look awesome in something like that."
"Ryan, I am not wearing anything like that at my age," Ms. Danforth replied, slightly scandalized by the suggestion.
"Why not? You could pull it off. You've certainly got the legs for it."
"Excuse me?" she cried. "Did my son's boyfriend just compliment my legs?"
"Why not? I'm gay, not blind," Ryan replied reasonably. "You've got amazing legs. In fact the Wildcats voted you the prettiest mom in the entire school."
"Dude, that's so wrong," Chad said groggily before turning over to face the sofa. Ryan and Ms. Danforth stared at him for a moment before exchanging a glance.
"Be that as it may," she said, still blushing, "I am not wearing a mini-dress to a formal party."
"Is it black tie?" Ryan asked eagerly. They launched into a discussion about fashion and Ryan offered advice about what to wear to the event, including makeup and hair tips. When Ms. Danforth excused herself to use the bathroom between episodes, Ryan took the tea things back to the kitchen. He returned to the family room and leaned over the couch to check on Chad, who rolled onto his back and squinted up at him.
"Could you be any more cliché?" he asked.
"If I catch you in my mom's closet--."
"Well, she did offer me a blue sweater she said would do wonderful things for my eyes," Ryan teased.
"She did not."
"How do you know, Sleeping Beauty?" Ryan asked, casually reaching over to tickle Chad's belly. Chad curled up like an armadillo and tried to evade Ryan's nimble fingers, which were well experienced at probing all of Chad's most ticklish spots. Ryan climbed over the sofa and straddled him, escalating the assault until the sound of Mr. Danforth's voice brought the roughhousing to an abrupt halt.
"Ryan," he said archly. Ryan looked up, gasped and leapt off the sofa. Chad immediately sat up, hair wildly askew, and realized that Ryan hadn't reacted to the presence of Chad's father.
"Hey dad, Coach," Chad said. He had no idea what Mr. Bolton made of the scene he'd just witnessed but he was more concerned about why he was there in the first place.
"May I have a word with you, Chad?" Mr. Bolton said evenly.
"Sure," Chad said, leaping over the back of the sofa and padding over to him in his socks.
"Is there somewhere we can speak privately?" he asked. Chad glanced at his father, who nodded toward the study. Chad led the way to the room. Mr. Danforth followed the pair. "If you don't mind, Earl, I'd like to speak with Chad alone."
"What's this about?" Mr. Danforth demanded suspiciously.
"I'd like to talk to him about Troy," Mr. Bolton replied, averting his eyes. Mr. Danforth was unconvinced, but Chad nodded and his father reluctantly withdrew. Chad took a seat on the sofa, but Mr. Bolton paced a bit, seemingly unable to gather his thoughts.
"So what's up with Troy?" Chad prompted.
"I had a long talk with him yesterday," Mr. Bolton said, turning to him, but not meeting his eyes. "He told me and my wife that he's chucked his scholarship to U of A and applied to some community college in California. Do you know anything about this?"
"Yes, sir," Chad said. "I was kind of surprised when he didn't show up at the U of A freshman orientation Saturday, so I called him. That's when--."
"There was an orientation? He didn't even tell us!" the coach spat, running a hand through his hair. "All this time my wife and I thought everything was settled. We've been planning around his going to school at U of A. Now Troy's got this wild-eyed notion that he's got to go to school in California in order to be near Gabriella. He's determined to go, regardless of whatever he has to sacrifice, not to mention what Katie and I have sacrificed in order to get him to college. We tried to give him a fair hearing, let him present his argument for going. Then we presented our position, but no matter what we said, he wouldn't see reason, even when we refused to pay his way. He said he'd get a job and support himself, pay his own way through school if he had to. He insisted that nothing--."
"What does this have to do with me?" Chad interrupted. The coach looked at Chad, who was eyeing him with concern.
"As you can well imagine, it was quite a heated conversation. Troy couldn't understand why we were all being so stubborn and he especially singled you out, Chad."
"Me?" Chad frowned. "He's the one who's being unreasonable." Mr. Bolton ran a hand through his hair and then looked Chad in the eye.
"He accused all of us of being insensitive to what he was feeling but said that of all people you should understand exactly what he was going through."
Chad smiled humorlessly.
"He outted me."
"What do you think is going on in there?" Ryan asked, staring at the closed door.
"I don't know," Mr. Danforth said. "He drove up as I was getting out of my car. He was looking fairly worried, but he said he just wanted to talk to Chad about Troy." Ms. Danforth returned to the family room and immediately sensed the tension in the room.
"What's going on?" she said, looking from her husband to Ryan.
"Jack Bolton's here," Mr. Danforth replied. "He asked to speak to Chad alone."
"And you let him?" she challenged.
"Chad agreed to it," he said sheepishly.
Ryan took a seat and chewed on a nail until Ms. Danforth pulled his hand away.
"That won't help anything," she said gently.
"It was unintentional, but yes," Mr. Bolton replied. "He said that Ryan Evans was going to a school even farther away than Gabriella and he couldn't understand how you could be so calm about it." The coach glanced over at Chad, whose expression was unreadable. "Look, Chad," he said uneasily. "You've always been like a second son to me and I've always looked out for you. You know that you could always come to me with a problem--."
"I don't have a problem," Chad said defensively.
"I--. I don't mean it that way," Mr. Bolton said hastily. "What I meant is--. You could have come to me if you needed someone to talk to about this."
"I'm gay," Chad said bluntly.
"Yes, about--." Jack Bolton sighed and scratched his head. "I don't pretend to know anything about it, but you could have come to me. We could have talked about this. You know I would do anything to help if I could."
Chad shook his head.
"I know you mean well, Coach, but I don't need any help. I've got this covered," he said with a hint of amusement. He continued before the coach could respond. "Look, under any other circumstances, I might have come to you," he said. "But not with this."
"It's not that I didn't trust you. You know I respect you and Ms. B like my own parents. But I couldn't take that risk. You're the coach and I didn't want to put you in a difficult position. I didn't know what you would have to do and I didn't--. Anyway, my days as a Wildcat are over; it's a moot point." Chad averted his eyes. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way. I had every intention of telling you myself--in my own time."
"Troy obviously knows," Mr. Bolton said after a few moments, having absorbed Chad's words. "Who else have you told?"
"Zeke and just a few others," Chad said evasively. He sighed and braced himself. "Including--."
"My wife," Coach said nodding. "Yeah, I could tell by the look in her eyes when Troy let it slip. Should I assume, based on the fact that the Evans boy is out there, that your parents also know?"
Chad nodded. Mr. Bolton glared back at him.
"I told them first," Chad insisted. "I could never keep something like that from my parents. They're fully aware of my relationship with Ryan and are very supportive." Mr. Bolton nodded, not quite sure how to respond to that revelation. "What are you going to do about Troy?"
"I wish I knew. I'm not sure we'll be able to talk him out of it, but frankly, I think it's a big mistake he'll come to regret someday."
Chad sat down again and shook his head.
"That's assuming he lives long enough."
"He was pretty upset," Ryan told the Danforths back in the family room. "He wouldn't tell me what happened when they spoke, so I don't know exactly why. But I do know that--." Ryan paused and shook his head.
"Ryan," Mr. Danforth prompted.
"I observed Gabriella very closely today, too," he said. "She was putting a brave front on things but I could tell… She's not exactly happy with Troy, either. In fact, I kind of got the impression that she was hoping Chad would talk some sense into him before things get totally out of hand."
"If it's any consolation, I don't think he even realized what he'd done," Troy's father said in defense of his son.
"That's not any consolation to me at all, Coach," Chad said bitterly. "Troy's so wrapped up in his own little world, he's not thinking about what he says or who he hurts, so long as he gets to live out his little fantasy."
"I understand your anger--."
"Do you, Coach? Did you know that I passed up an opportunity to apply to a college in the northeast--a good engineering school, not some random well-located two-year school no one ever heard of--because I agreed to go to U of A with Troy? I'm going to miss Ryan as much as he'd miss Gabriella, but I kept my end of the bargain. I went to that orientation and I registered for my freshman classes. Troy? He conveniently forgot about his commitment as soon as he realized he'd be--." Chad bit off the rest of his comment out of respect for Troy's father and rose to walk over to the desk.
"It sounds as though you and the Evans kid--."
"His name is Ryan," Chad said tersely.
"You and Ryan sound serious," Mr. Bolton said. Chad nodded. "How long have you two been involved, if I may ask?"
"We started dating last October, a few weeks after I came out to my parents."
"So about six months," Mr. Bolton calculated. "Are you sure--?"
"With all due respect, Coach, you should save this talk for Troy," Chad interrupted. "I'm not the one throwing away a scholarship to run off to the west coast."
"At the moment I'm more concerned about you," Coach said smiling wryly. "How are you going to cope with your…boyfriend going away to--?"
"Juilliard," Chad supplied. He returned to the sofa and sat down. "It sucks, but we'll deal. "
"You're avoiding the question," Mr. Bolton said, taking a seat beside him. Chad licked his lips.
"Okay," he said. "We've each won highly competitive merit-based scholarships and we both feel we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities we've been handed. He's studying dance at Juilliard and I'm going into the computer engineering program at U of A. We plan to visit each other whenever we can, but mostly we'll have to make do with phone calls, texts and IM's. Like I said, it'll suck," Chad said with a shrug, "but we really want to make it work. Maybe we haven't been together a year and a half like Troy and Gabriella, but we're in a serious relationship and we want it to last. We might not make it--one of us might cheat, we might get into a fight, we might end up giving up on each other entirely--. But we're willing to take that risk. As Ryan said, if we can't make it through our first year apart we probably won't make it together, either."
Mr. Bolton nodded, satisfied with Chad's answer. He rubbed his hands together and sat back.
"Maybe you should try and talk some sense into Troy. I'm not getting anywhere with him."
"Frankly, I'm done with Troy," Chad replied. "He obviously could care less what I think."
"I don't believe that, Chad."
"No? Well, I believe it. He screwed me over with the school thing, he outted me without a moment's thought--. Oh, and between those two betrayals he had the nerve to send a text asking me if I could put in a good word with Ryan's parents and help him get a summer job at Lava Springs." Chad rose and went to the door. "I'm done, Coach." He left the study and immediately found himself face to face with Ryan, who'd been pacing back and forth outside.
"Is everything okay? What happened?" he demanded. Behind him, Chad's parents looked equally concerned. Chad smiled reassuringly.
"Everything's fine," he said, reaching out to briefly caress Ryan's cheek before turning him around to face the coach, who'd also come out of the study. "Coach, this is my boyfriend, Ryan Evans. Ryan, this is Coach Bolton."
"Pleased to meet you, Ryan," the coach said, extending his hand somewhat awkwardly.
"Coach," Ryan said in a voice barely above a whisper. He turned huge eyes to Chad, who had turned to address his parents.
"Troy outted me," he said simply. His mother's mouth dropped open, but his father came forward, ready to protect his son.
"Jack?" he said, descending on his long-time friend.
"It was an accident," Mr. Bolton said hastily. Ms. Danforth found her voice.
"What kind of accident?" she demanded. Chad went back into the family room and flopped onto the sofa. Ryan joined him and everyone else followed the pair. Once they had all settled, Mr. Bolton related the story of his argument with Troy for the Danforths.
"You have to wonder how many people he's ratted us out to today," Chad said, shaking his head.
"Chad," Mr. Bolton protested.
"I'm sorry, Coach," Chad said, rising to his feet. "But let's face it. Troy's judgment is not exactly stellar right now. He's got his head so far up his--. This is--."
"You know, Chad, I can understand your anger at him right now," Ryan said gently. "But maybe--." He hesitated momentarily. Chad glared at him.
"What? You think I should forgive him? I should let the Golden Boy slide yet again?" Chad shook his head. "No! No way! I'm sick of this! I'm sick of watching Troy Bolton trample all over people--trample over me--and get away with it. I'm sick of watching him throw himself head first into deep shit and come out smelling like a rose. This time, he's on his own." Chad stormed out of the room and headed upstairs. The others watched him go. Ryan rose and with an apologetic look for the others, followed him. He knocked on the door as he tried to think of the right words to defuse Chad's anger.
Ryan waited a full minute. Hearing no answer, he finally decided to enter the room. Chad was lying on his bed staring at the ceiling. Ryan went over to the bed and climbed onto it, settling into Chad's outstretched arms.
"It's Monday," Chad said after about five minutes of silence.
"I know. Want me to call Sharpay?"
"No, I'll take you home." Chad checked his watch. "We've got plenty of time."
"Good," Ryan said, nestling deeper into Chad's arms.
Ryan lifted his head.
"I know you were trying to help back there, but I can't deal with that right now. I'm not going to just to let this go."
"No one's asking you to do that," Ryan said. "I just think you should try to calm down so you--."
"I am calm."
"…Don't end up flying off the handle the same way Troy did."
"You accused Troy of acting without any regard for anyone or anything but his own concerns. I just don't want to see you do the same thing."
"You think that's what I'm doing?" Chad cried, abruptly sitting up and dislodging Ryan in the process.
"I think you're responding emotionally--and with good justification," Ryan said carefully. "But I think you need to be careful not to fall into the same--."
"I can't believe you're comparing me to him!" Chad said, pushing himself away from Ryan to rise from the bed. "I'm nothing like him!"
"That's not what I am suggesting."
"That's exactly what you said! I'm responding emotionally."
"Of course you are!" Ryan said, losing his patience and rising to confront Chad face to face. "You've been hurt by someone you trusted and thought you could rely on. You're feeling betrayed and abandoned and ill-used and--." Ryan averted his eyes. "And I'm standing here making you feel even worse. Which is not my intent--I'm just trying to caution you not to act too hastily on this."
"Hastily? I've had fifteen years of Troy, the last two of which he obviously spent perfecting his talent for being a complete jerk!"
"I know," Ryan replied. "But just as everything isn't about what Troy wants, it's not only about you, either. There are--."
"Just hear me out, Chad."
"No! I don't want to hear this! I can't believe I'm standing here with you in my face telling me--."
"You know what? Never mind," Ryan said, backing away. "I'll see you tomorrow." He turned and left the room before Chad could stop him. Chad huffed for a few seconds before he swore loudly and threw himself back onto his bed.
"Chad! Dinner time!" his mother called nearly an hour later. Chad wasn't hungry, but he rose and went downstairs. In the Danforth house one ignored a summons to the dinner table at his own peril. He walked into the dining room and saw his parents at the table, but there was no sign of Ryan.
"His sister came and picked him up a half hour ago," Ms. Danforth said gently. "Did you two have a fight?"
"No," Chad said petulantly. "He was trying to talk me into forgiving Troy or something."
"I think he was trying to prevent you from rushing to judgment without thinking everything through," Mr. Danforth corrected. "Sit down."
Ryan laid on his bed staring at the ceiling. He was furious: at Troy, at Chad, but mostly at himself for the way he'd handled things. He reached for his phone and considered calling Chad, but his fingers brought up his contact list almost of their own accord and he found himself waiting for Troy to pick up.
"Hey, Ryan," Troy said.
"Troy? Got a minute?" Ryan asked, although he was in no mood to brook a refusal. "This won't take long. I just wanted to let you know what you've managed to do over the past 72 hours to someone you keep insisting is your best friend."
"Huh? What are you talking about?"
"I'll start with Saturday," Ryan continued. "We arrived on the campus of U of A, fully expecting to find you there. You not only failed to show up, you didn't even have the courtesy to let Chad know you weren't coming."
"I spoke to Chad--."
"When he called you, yes, and you took that opportunity to tell him that months ago--well after the two of you made a pact to attend the U of A together--you took it upon yourself to reject the athletic scholarship you'd abandoned the Wildcats last summer to acquire in order to apply to some college no one ever heard of out in California."
"I had to do it, man," Troy said defensively. "Gabriella's going to be out there."
"And Chad is going to be here," Ryan said bluntly, warming to his subject. "Or doesn't he count anymore? You betrayed him, Troy. Not only did you just go and change all the plans you made together without his knowledge but also by not telling him what you were planning, you denied him the opportunity to apply to a school somewhere on the east coast. You see he might have done that had he known you weren't going to go to the U of A like you promised. But Chad kept his side of the bargain and now he's going there all alone. Now he's stuck in the southwest without the best friend he planned on spending the next four years with. And thanks to your thoughtlessness we'll be going to schools thousands of miles apart rather than dozens of miles apart because you couldn't be bothered to speak up and admit that you were having second thoughts about staying in New Mexico."
"I didn't realize--."
"I'm not done yet," Ryan interjected. "You outted him today."
"What? I never--."
"You outted him to your dad."
"I swear, Ryan, I would never do such a thing!" Troy insisted.
"You outted Chad to your father!" Ryan shouted. "I was there when Coach came over to the Danforths to confront Chad."
"I--. I'm sorry, man."
"I would feel sorry for Chad, but frankly, I can't really empathize. I'm finding it hard to imagine what it would be like to have a friend who's so utterly, totally and completely an ass."
Having said his piece, Ryan hung up the phone. He considered calling Chad but knew he wouldn't answer. So Ryan wrote a quick text instead and sent it, then set aside the phone. He laid there in the dark, unable to sleep for hours.
Shortly after one o'clock, minutes after Ryan had finally dropped off, the door to his room opened. Ryan turned his head and saw a familiar figure approaching. Ryan pushed himself up on his elbows and watched Chad undress and crawl into bed.
"Chad?" he said curiously. "What are you doing here?"
Chad didn't answer; he pulled the covers up over his shoulders and promptly fell asleep. Ryan frowned at Chad's back for a second, then alarm set in. He sat up and turned on the light. He studied Chad closely and reached for his phone.
"Hello?" a sleepy voice answered.
"Mr. D? This is Ryan."
"Ryan? What on earth--?"
"Chad's here," Ryan said breathlessly.
"Chad's here. In my bed. Fast asleep."
On to Part 2